Gordon Luk from Goodhustle Studios spoke to TPG about developing his PC boxing title, Beast Boxing Turbo. Gordon discusses bringing a floundering genre to the PC, how he went about creating match flow, thoughts on the PC gaming industry, and how a T1-81 began his programming journey.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Beast Boxing Turbo.
I’m Gordon Luk, the lead developer of Beast Boxing Turbo. The game started as a learning project that went wildly out of control between myself and Khang Le. The PC game grew out of the foundations we built because I felt like the PC gaming audience would really appreciate its design and gameplay, if I could bring it up to par for the marketplace. My role was to basically to do everything but art – I did programming, audio, game design, UI, marketing and publishing.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
This is my first PC game! I got started programming by making calculator games for my TI-81 in high school, but instead ended up working on backend web development for over 10 years. Beast Boxing started as “Beast Boxing 3D”, an iPhone game that we released in 2010 to critical acclaim and above-average success. I felt that it could have done better in a market with more core gamers, so that’s a big reason why I decided to redesign the game for PC gamers.
Where did the idea for Beast Boxing Turbo come from?
We were originally going to make a “simple” boxing game with more human characters and 2D art. It turned from a one-month project to a huge undertaking once we realized how much precise timing and animation work goes into fighting games, especially ones that are single-player and content-driven. Once the gameplay solidified, his newer designs turned out to go more in the direction of monsters, so I created a storyline and character personalities revolving around those designs.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Beast Boxing Turbo?
Beast Boxing Turbo was a complete remake of Beast Boxing 3D, so most of the success I found was in taking the negative feedback from the earlier game and addressing it in the redesign. Most of the changes revolve around the themes of speed and training. Animations were sped up, enemy AI was tightened up, and I also added in many more UI elements such as the guard meters and streak meter to make it easier to interpret what’s going on in the game. The gear system was a huge last-minute addition, but it gives the players a lot more to consider in between matches, and offers a nice break-up in pace that extends the game and also gives more to strive for in NewGame Plus.
As far as failures, I definitely feel as if the jumping-in-feet-first approach typically recommended to new game devs became problematic for me. I would have loved to “add in” multiplayer, but the naive decisions I made early on in development when I was learning game conventions constrained my ability to do anything without having to rip out and replace thousands of lines of code. Instead, I decided to just focus on polishing the single-player gameplay and making it as good as possible. I’d love to revisit that later, but there’s always budgeting and time frame to think about.
From a business point of view, not going with human characters has been problematic. It makes things much more fun and unique from a creative viewpoint, though, so I don’t really have many regrets there.
In its current form, how close is Beast Boxing Turbo to your initial vision?
Very close! I think the gameplay feels like I wanted it to with consistent, polished controls that are understandable and easy to get absorbed with. It’s also much faster than most fighting games, with a definite flow to the action that you learn to anticipate. Initially, my goal was to go somewhere in between the puzzle-oriented system of Punch-Out! games and the overwhelming style of simulation going on in Fight Night, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Beast Boxing Turbo and if you faced a similar challenge.
Since the iPhone version came out, I found that some players breezed through the game on normal and easy mode way too quickly, and never realized that enemies have different behavior scripts for each difficulty. For Beast Boxing Turbo, I tried to rectify that mistake by making “hardcore” mode the default, and then pushing the UI to expose more of the internal gameplay systems going on, like enemy guard amounts, damage done, combo counters, and change of fatigue from preventing punches to weakening them. This makes gameplay a lot more accessible, and with the new unlockable tutorials, the difficulty ramps up from match to match, and league to league better than before.
Nintendo’s Punch-Out! was brilliant in its design, as they reused a lot of character assets (and even entire characters!), but managed to make the game feel long through serious difficulty and increased stakes on the title bouts. I followed their lead, and changed the title bouts in Beast Boxing Turbo to risking your rank, and I think makes the game last longer by defeating the player more often.
Because we moved towards arcade action instead of puzzle mechanics, we were able to increase the speed and danger from character to character, while only demanding small adjustments from the player to advance. This puts the onus on player execution rather than player learning, and that’s what gives the game its sense of speed and demand for concentration.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Beast Boxing Turbo would run on the various PC system configurations?
Since the Unity game engine handles most of the heavy lifting, developing for PC has been a relatively painless experience! The one problem I’ve run into is mostly publishing-related. For Windows, you run into a lot of annoying problems if you don’t sign your executables, and that’s an expensive thing for an indie to do. This is especially problematic on Windows 8, but since the market adoption has been really low, I don’t think it’s worthwhile yet – so if you’re on Windows 8, I apologize for all of the warnings you’ll have to click through!
Please talk about developing the art style, match flow and music for Beast Boxing Turbo.
For the music in Beast Boxing Turbo, I went with a combination of original tracks from Shadi Muklashy inspired from our love for Hajime no Ippo’s music, and also tracks from Kevin Macleod. This let me do a theme track for each opponent instead of a track per arena, which players found repetitive in the original iPhone version.
Since Khang and Shadi both work on Hawken now, I’ve had to redesign the UI myself several times, find various royalty-free assets like Kevin Macleod’s music, and enlist help from art freelancers like Chrystin Garland and Jason Caffoe, who were excellent in helping add more art to the game that fit into the art style established by Khang.
Match flow has been drastically improved, with a steeper difficulty curve that hits around match 3 or so. In the first 10 minutes or so, most players can succeed with button mashing, but the AI quickly adjusts around match 2 and 3 to force the player to improvise and adapt to the gameplay. As the player gets used to the fighting gameplay, they’re also going from buying super cheap upgrades and gear to needing to consider what path they want their boxer to take. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, and hopefully the 30 minute demo gives allows players to make some progress on that journey while having fun!
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Marketing! Specifically, getting started as an indie game developer in the iOS marketplace is pretty brutal, and that’s where a lot of independent developers start these days. It was great being able to work with Khang, whose works speaks for itself, but the App Store has an oversupply of great games, and even if you deliver something really amazing and unique like Waking Mars and get featured by Apple, it’s off the radar of the average iPhone user in a matter of weeks.
Even if you develop full-price games for a niche audience, trying to reach those people is half the job, and programming experience doesn’t really prepare you for the realities of marketing products online. However, the great thing about the PC market is that you have far more flexibility in how to reach out, market, and ultimately sell your product.
How did you go about funding Beast Boxing Turbo and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
I focused on saving a lot of money to start a business when I was a web developer, and I’ve been using that to pay the bills while I worked on Beast Boxing Turbo. I’ve gotten enormous amounts of emotional support from friends and family, and I’ll be eternally grateful for that.
The PC sports genre has been floundering for quite some time. In this regard, were you nervous about releasing Beast Boxing Turbo and how it would be received?
Yes, definitely! It seems like the market for sports titles is mostly on consoles. However, I think there’s still a good opportunity for original, innovative sports titles on PC. Time will tell if it’s well received!
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Not really – I knew I wanted to build out a game that was well worth a retail price of $9.99, and so I kept working on it until I felt that was the case. There was a time early on where I aimed for $4.99, but it just didn’t feel like a “real” PC game. After all the work on the new mechanics, content, and new gear and upgrade systems, I definitely felt that it could justify the asking price. I think that’s the problem with a lot of iPhone games, actually – the devs are forced to stop working on gameplay at some point because the investment is too much of a risk.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Beast Boxing Turbo?
I noticed that people don’t really get interested in figuring out the gameplay until they lose a match – then they want to try again! Demos should make it as easy as possible to experience all of the core elements and themes that you tried to put together, while not giving away too much of the core game. I actually felt that locking it to a pure # of wins would be counterproductive – when you defeat an enemy, it sort of feels like you’ve completed something and can relax. I would much prefer for players to be in the middle of a tough match when I ask them if they’d like to pay for the full game!
How important is it to get instant feedback about Beast Boxing Turbo from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s been crucial, as I didn’t do the pre-launch marketing that one usually does in the App Store marketplace. It’s still only been a handful of days since launch, and I’ve already changed the demo from 15 to 30 minutes based on the overwhelming feedback I received from early users.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Beast Boxing Turbo professionally?
It’s very important to me to know what they think – much of what makes Beast Boxing Turbo a good game is the professional feedback that identified real problem areas in the original iPhone game. For example, there was a critical review of the iPhone version on one review site where the reviewer couldn’t get over what he perceived as laggy controls. I couldn’t figure that comment out for a long time – but eventually after talking with a friend of mine about Street Fighter, I realized that most fighting games have an input queue to allow you to start attacks before previous animations have finished. Adding that in to Beast Boxing Turbo really increased the immediacy of gameplay, and if I hadn’t internalized that critical review so deeply, I doubt I would have been as motivated to investigate that issue.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
I think they bring a lot of deal-seekers into the indie game market that otherwise wouldn’t play or hear about these games. The price and PWYW scheme has been enough to break through into sites like CAG and Slickdeals, and that’s a good thing for expanding our market! It would be interesting if the bundle operators became new gatekeepers to the indie game market, operating almost like a subscription service for games.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I think some companies are taking it way too far, but as a developer whose iPhone game was widely pirated, I understand the frustration that leads the industry down this path. For Beast Boxing Turbo, I chose to work with the same company (Yummy) that provides lightweight DRM to PopCap and Runic games, and I feel it was a great choice. As a result, one serial code can work for both PC and Mac versions, I can package up a demo without having to maintain it as a separate project, and it also integrates really well with FastSpring who handles my e-commerce. These are really important benefits for a time-deprived indie game developer, and with the capability to allow 10 activations per serial code, I’ve tried to make sure this works well for my paying customers.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Beast Boxing Turbo?
It’s great to see people who excited about the game. My only concern is that I hope people post videos of the tougher fights and not just of the tutorials and easy matches in the beginning. :p
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLC requires a different approach to development than most indies can afford to take, so I think we mostly see it for already-successful games. It’s not a very old or mature model yet, so many PC game developers are still experimenting to justify the enormous budgets it takes to just meet the level of expectations for fidelity in the marketplace. Personally, I get really sad when I see amazing-looking games like Natural Selection 2 get panned for looking “dated.” If every game has to look like Call of Duty or UDK’s crazy tech demos in order to be acceptable, then I’m afraid gamers are just going to have to get used to alternative revenue schemes in their games.
For smaller developers, most of us break the bank just trying to get our base game out into the market. It’s hard to plan on DLC when you don’t know if your game is going to be a success!
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Beast Boxing Turbo?
I haven’t built-in any provision for mods, but I would be happy to if there was a community interested in tuning their own boxing matches! I actually tuned the whole game out of large spreadsheets in Google Docs, and I don’t think it would be too hard to allow people to load in their own opponent definitions. If anyone’s actually interested in that, please do reach out!
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
You’ve got to have a good sense of taste, and be able to be brutally honest with yourself about your skills and work. This means you’ll have to play a lot of different games, so buy and play old games, indie games, new games, casual games, f2p games, and think critically about them! Don’t worry about “broadening appeal”, worry instead about fitting a specific market. I often hear the assumption that Angry Birds has broad appeal, but many PC gamers hate that game because it doesn’t fit the expectations of their market. In other words – don’t make your game cute for no good reason! Decide the type of game you’re making, and then emphasize the core themes and design as much as possible. Good luck!
We would like to thank Gordon for his detailed answers and wish him great success with Beast Boxing Turbo. You can download the demo and purchase on the official site. In addition, be sure to vote on Steam Greenlight.